Backstage before his show, Antonio Marras cited as inspiration a real-life mentor, the late artist Maria Lai. An exhibit running at the National Museum of Medieval and Modern Art of Basilicata in Matera, the European capital of culture for 2019, features both of their works.
“[Lai] was the one introducing me to the art world. She told me she met me as a child and rediscovered me as an artist,” Marras said.
So it’s perhaps no wonder that Lai was front-of-mind as Marras began work on his fall collection. Only Marras is a spinner of yarns, crafting romantic, multilayered narratives around his collections (or is it the reverse?), that are seldom as linear as even the most fruitful teacher-student relationship.
Turns out, the manner in which Lai’s influence manifested proved anything but ordinary. Lai, it seems, was a sewer as well as a painter, who, according to Marras, spun tales of her own. She either told him stories about magical fairies or he imagined she did (backstage time was short, and translation hasty). Either way, one fairy traveled from Sardinia to London and returned with a beau and a belligerent sewing machine, but not before having a fine time in Eighties London, taking up with Punks and New Romantics, and bringing that culture back to Sardinia, ripe for cross-pollination. And once arrived, the sewing machine couldn’t be controlled and went mad. Oh! And let’s not forget the manic bell-ringers who appeared every now and then, playing weapon-like bells attached to (and sometimes flying off of) long ribbons. Because what self-respecting, Punk-adjacent sewing fairy would make the trip from London to Sardinia without bringing her crazy bell-ringing friends back home?
Now isn’t that better than just an old teacher-student story, no matter how lauded the teacher?
Especially when the clothes are as magical as those Marras showed. His has a very specific aesthetic, one steeped in classicism yet with an artful do-over that keeps you wondering, is it melancholy or just strange? No matter. These clothes captivate. You either buy in, mesmerized, or you observe from the perimeter, with head-scratching curiosity. The Marras magic showed in fine form for fall, for women and men: the fabric mixes; the painter’s strokes; the tailoring, some tony and refined, some foppish, inside-out, deconstructed and sprinkled with Swarovski crystals; the gossamer gowns; the army fatigues; the crossover of luxe with denim and street. And, in honor of one P-word, “Punk,” another P-word: “Plaid.” Marras showed it first in a man’s shirttails peeking out from under a leather jacket, and in the sleeve facings of a woman’s jacket, cut ingeniously to morph into a kilt. It also appeared in shirts worn under asymmetric cocktail dresses and patched onto a fleece-collared denim jacket. There were also big, floppy sweaters; tie-on lace tippets on dresses and jackets, and so much more.
If it sounds like a fashion eccentric’s bonanza, it was. Yet the best kind of eccentricity — one to leap into with abandon, or from which to cherry-pick deftly, either way, a delight. As Liza with a Z sang many years ago, “Ring Them Bells.”